Babies are amazing teachers. I had the pleasure recently of a couple bringing their five-month-old along to a therapy session and this child was so amazing that I found it a bit hard to tear away from simply gazing at him for the whole hour—partly because the child was already in the mental space to which I could only hope to guide my clients (and myself). The kid was beyond “cured,” he was curative.
Now as synchronicity would have it, the very hour prior I had been working with a lovely young man who had a big wish to go back and be a baby, and who found it hard to believe that anyone could grow up to the point of feeling secure enough in themselves, and trusting of the world, to happily embrace not being utterly dependent and excused from work. And therein lies the rub: as babies we are free of the mundane (i.e. worldly) tasks like getting food and shelter for ourselves, but we are (somewhat terrifyingly) dependent upon others for our every need—including our profound need to be understood. After all, if we don’t feel truly understood, we cannot feel fully loved and accepted.
This baby’s parents have their stressors and “issues” (like all of us), but they are seasoned pros at parenting newborns (having had ample prior experience with their other kids) and as a result, this five-month-old was a shining example of secure attachment. He had beaming smiles for both of his parents, sought comfort from his mom and readily found it there. He also was able to engage me with complete openness, curiosity and non-self-consciousness.
My sense about babies is that they know things—a lot of things. They feel, think and are “spiritual” without useless jargon; they are free of resentments, with anger coming on strong and then passing like so many wafting clouds on a summer day. There is no sense of “how am I, the baby, coming across?”; and thus the baby is a Buddha—an enlightened being, present to the moment, and essentially happy—at moments truly free of fear and desire (which is more than you can say for most grown-ups who have precious few waking moments free of all fear and desire). We do not look into the eyes of a five-month-old and wonder, “is this the ‘real’ them, or is it a mask?” They just are who they are—something decreasingly true of us humans as we “develop.” Babies mentally reside in the mythical place we call paradise; the “carnal” knowledge that the baby lacks is the self-consciousness that turns the mirror into a critic, that shatters splendidly and unselfconsciously nude into squirmingly naked.
Most adults find moments of doing absolutely nothing but hanging out (not drinking, watching TV, texting… just gazing at each other or at a flower) rather daunting. Our minds race to the past and the future, and the “Power of Now” becomes, more often than not, the power to make us feel restless and uncomfortable. In moments of true stillness our demons, our sadness and anxiety, loom up to confront us—and this is precisely why we all stay so busy, and are so often plagued by overwork, and then dreary boredom when we have the difficult “luxury” of time, of no structure or pressing appointments. The baby, on the other hand, is timeless (having no concept of time) and literally embodies the power of right now: there is no past and no future to their minds, and thus they are always in the present. The Eckhart Tolles and Dali Lamas tell us to be in the moment, but the moment makes us feel restless and inadequate, and soon those books gather dust on our shelves; babies effortlessly live the message of the perpetual now and offer a polished mirror that can reflect the authentic beings we once were, and still are—underneath our masks and neuroses.
So, if you have any passing chance to take note of a five-month-old today, look deeply into his or her eyes and try to “tell them,” vibing by using the part of your brain that sits just behind your forehead, that you recognize the intelligent and the sacred in them. Telepathically trust that although they cannot form words due to the newness of lips and tongue and the absence of teeth, that they are nevertheless trying to tell you something: the simple message that they are happy to see you and to be here in this world. “Tell” a baby in this way that you get her drift, and watch her eyes sparkle and shine.
The strange thing, and you’d have to experiment with it yourself, is that when you mentally vibe something like this to a secure five-month-old you will very likely see an illumination of recognition and transcendent love—in her eyes and awakening in your own eyes and heart. Babies are great teachers of what Martin Buber called “the essential deed”—the act of relating to the sacred in the other, free of wanting to get, or even give anything other than mutual recognition. Ideally, you can strive for this with other grown-ups, and even with trees and rocks. The trick with others besides animals and babies, however, is that you cannot necessarily expect any validating spark of recognition coming back to you. This is one of the things that makes parenting older kids so tough; you start to get your sleep, but you decreasingly have those raw moments of gazing and loving and just plain being that you get with babies. Still, the freer we become of our need for validation, the more we embody that Buddha nature of delight that babies bring… sometimes reigniting it in others (which is something folks like Thich Nhat Hahn seem to bring to the quest for tranquility and good feelings that last).
Let’s try to check in with the babies (or whoever, or whatever, is around for appreciating), as the benefit inures to whoever of us manages to see the sacred, (and not necessarily to have the sacred seen in ourselves). I write today in this spirit—trying to vibe out to you, the reader, that I do see, sense and feel you. To the extent that we join in seeing the sacred today, I wish peace and joy for you in today’s moments, and set the intention of dedicating our striving—our being, failing and trying again—in gratitude for, and in benefit of, all our collective children.